Musings on the State of Self-Pub Today

So in light of the latest outtake by Simon & Schuster, I started thinking of how self-publication has evolved, and its general current state of affairs.

What I’m seeing is that, as far as being taken as a viable route for an aspiring author to go from aspiring to published, self-publication has grown into a very viable avenue. With participation in various author forums, mostly as an observer, I saw people go from making enough to cover a meal a month from their books to making enough money to cover a few bills. Word of mouth has become a great, if not the best, marketing avenue for new authors, and I cannot tell you just how effective it is.

What I’m also seeing, most crucially, is that self-pubs do very well while working together.

About at this time last year, I was only finding out about Melissa Foster. If you do not know of her now, you should. Apart from being an author in her own right, she hd done a fantastic thing: she had built up a ton of exposure for self-pubs and trad-pub authors alike by putting together a social exchange. Immediately, the exposure factor within the author community is alleviated for the newcomer. There’s a network of people in a similar boat, all of them with their own writing, all of them doing the same thing as the newcomer: publishing, promoting, speaking out, going into details about writing as both an art form and a business.

So now that the network has been around for a while, self-pubs had gotten exposure in the public eye as well as amongst themselves and in the online communities, what’s happening right now?

You’ll find few changes. Except that now that the novelty of self-publishing had worn off, the authors are now exploring their options and doing research in the cost-benefit analysis style. Not necessarily crunching numbers, but weighing options and making decisions on how to publish based strictly on how the medium will pan out for their particular story.

This is the thing. The Big Six saw loud and clear that its client base, both the authors and the readers, recognized that self-publication is a very viable medium, and it is costing the Big Six their profit. So they’ve forayed into the world of “self-publishing” by opening up several vanity presses masquerading as legit self-pub options. The old saying goes, “The devil’s in the details.” Read the terms of service. While it may look hunky-dory to put up a book with Book Country, if you read the fine print, you’ll find that it’s anything but. What Book Country gives you for $99, you can do for free with KDP and CreateSpace.

The novelty of self-publication had been great for initial publicity, but now that it’s worn off, the cold, hard analysis begins. Because of the sheer volume of self-published stories, there is now the issue of what constitutes good reading. This is where things get hairy, because the quality of a read is very subjective. I think we can all agree that no two people will have the same taste in writing: we have seen people praise Twilight, while another segment of the reader community wholeheatedly and vociferously decry it as terrible writing. (I’m in the second segment, but bear with me here). We’re seeing the same thing with Fifty Shades of Grey. Point is, quality in reading and writing is subjective. What one person doesn’t like, another can like a whole lot, and no one truly knows what makes a book sell. A marketing plan may be great, but no one truly knows that formula.

The new thing I’ve been seeing was the call for quality control in self-pub. This begs the first question: in what terms? Layout/spelling/grammar is something that’s not exclusive to self-publication as far as foibles are concerned. We’re all prone to them, and since book publication is a very human effort, more people need to acknowledge that, like most human efforts are apt to be, mistakes are bound to come up. And yet, self-published authors get a larger end of the schtick on this, for the usual tropes of misconceptions. Now, if we’re talking content – that’s a different ball game. See above: it’s subjective. Is the author trying to tell a story, or set a story up for something else? Can you tell what the author is doing within the text of the book? If the answer is yes, then I think it’s fair to say that the book, in and of itself, is passable to the person who is able to do so. To others? Maybe not so much.

Moreover, who will be doing the quality control? That’s the question du jour. Because if we wanted our stories to be screened in the quality control aspect, then that’s what publishing houses are supposed to be for, right? Then why, pray tell, did we self-pubs decide to cut the pub houses out of the equation, if quality control by a third party is necessary?

Just musing here, but let’s be realistic about one little thing. If quality control is the goal here, self-published authors will see it in their reviews. This is why, when we send a copy for a review, we should know and be aware that we won’t please everyone. In fact, sometimes, because we’re self-pubs, we may hit and miss. For sure, I’ve missed with a few. But I’ve hit with a whole bunch more, and I’m quite happy about that. But if those reviews are public, that‘s your quality control. Honest reviews, i.e. “Story is good, grammar needs work” – that’s what quality control is in any medium.

The one great thing about the state of self-pub today, though, is the vast plethora of info available. When Book Country came out, people were actually thinking that it was a good deal, when in fact it was a thinly veiled attempt by Penguin to make money off the authors, as opposed to readership revenue. And now, when Simon & Schuster pulled the same thing, the author community came together to call them out. There is a ton of info. Whatever you do not know, you can now look up. This hasn’t been around seven years ago. Hell, this has barely been around four years ago; most of what we know now about e-books, about self-publication, royalty splits, master copyright as it applies to all of that, we have learned as we go.

Yeah, there’s a lot of changes, but there’s a lot of staying the same too. And most of all, right now we know how to market our books. After all, we don’t have a publishing house doing it for us.